Did you know that, despite the fact that chickens make 95 percent of all the animals slaughtered for food in the U.S., no federal animal welfare laws exist for poultry birds in factory farms? This week, however, two animal welfare groups filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to change that.

While the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act is in place for cattle, swines, and other animals, birds have “no clear protections against abusive treatments in slaughterhouses.” The welfare groups have asked the USDA to go much further than the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which mandates that the “mistreatment of a bird causes some or all of it to become unfit for human consumption.” This, however, is just a guideline that some call “hit or miss,” judging from the less than half of poultry plants that actually cite any violations under the current guidelines. Thus, many say, formal law is needed.

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“A rule is a legal obligation. Until you have a rule, you can’t get meaningful enforcement. This next step is needed.” said Bruce Friedrich, senior policy director for Farm Sanctuary.

The National Chicken Council, an industry group, said in a response that animal abuse is “exceedingly rare” and that all of the needed guidelines are already in place.

Really? Is that why nearly a million birds are boiled alive each year in U.S. slaughterhouses?  How about the broken bones the birds experience when they are forced into metal shackles along the line?

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While we would like to see factory farms banned altogether, the rules these two animal welfare groups have petitioned for would be a step in the right direction – at least some standards for birds would be in place. Until we meet the day when “processing” of any animal is illegal, this will have to do for now.